Our team at the Minneapolis Parks Foundation has been reflecting (over Zoom, of course), about the incredible shift occurring within public institutions to maintain and operate the public spaces we all depend on more than ever before.
Over the course of the last few weeks, the Park Board adapted the Parkways, an integral element of the Minneapolis park system, to make more space for walkers and bikers. And last weekend, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board began opening their golf courses for play with adaptations to protect people while creating much-appreciated recreation opportunities for more Minnesotans to enjoy our relatively short season. These simple but profound steps provide examples of how we are adjusting our parks to meet the challenges of the moment
The public agency responsible for managing and operating our parks – the Minneapolis Park Board – has responded remarkably well to an unprecedented public health crisis to provide safe venues for exercise and play across the city, not just the popular regional park destinations. Covid-19 has tested the limits of the park realm we depend on. Though the challenge is not unique to Minneapolis, it is worth noting that as in most park related metrics, last month Minneapolis led the nation in the number of miles of roadway converted to pedestrian and bike trails. The leadership and staff of the Park Board deserve much praise for how they’ve responded quickly and thoughtfully to address urgent new demands.
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It’s too early for reliable predictions about when we’ll see large gatherings in our parks, but when that time comes, we’ll have learned more about what is important and necessary, and where future investments can be made. As I read local news and national journals, it is becoming clear to me that new and unconventional ideas are being introduced now that will remain influential long after we succeed in returning to public life. A recent public meeting seeking input on a regional park master plan was hosted virtually and engaged considerably more participants than similar meetings in the past.
Just as our partners at the Minneapolis Park Board and City of Minneapolis are responding to changing public needs, so is the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. Because of our donors, we are able to simultaneously support the ongoing construction of two new iconic riverfront parks – Water Works and the Great Northern Greenway Overlook – both slated to open yet this year, and use this unique time to plan for the future where our parks remain integral to our modern life.
Everything from civic engagement to design and long-range sustainability will be reconsidered as we learn from these adaptations. I believe it will be clear a decade from now that adjustments we made this year will be seen as catalysts for evolutionary improvements in our park system and civic life. While much uncertainty remains at the moment, the planning discussions our team has begun with the leadership at the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, together with design-thinking emerging around the country, point to transformative improvements in how our public realm will remain the most vital system we share.
Be well, keep connected, and stay active.